China has a booming multi-million dollar trade in wine made from the bones of tigers that is being fed by tiger farms masquerading as wildlife parks. Here thousands of the animals are kept in appalling living conditions which reportedly involves deliberately starving them.
Tiger bone wine is popular among many Chinese who hold fast to the traditional belief that it is an aphrodisiac and a tonic that will make them stronger and also enhance their sex drive. Customers can pay in excess of $500 to get their hands on a bottle of the special wine. The business practice has enraged animal rights activists who report that the big cats used as the main ingredient are being kept in atrocious conditions on these farms whose sole aim is the death of the tigers so that they can then get the animal’s bones.
The trade in tiger bone wine has seen a popularity boom as ordering the tonic has become easier and easier with the government’s tacit acceptance of the trade and the introduction of online sales. Technically, under the international wildlife conservation treaty, breeding tigers for their body parts is banned, but China’s government exempts breeders of captive tigers based on the argument that the farms reduce the poaching of wild tigers.
As the popularity of tiger products grew, so too did the poaching of tigers all across the Asian continent. The products from wild tigers tend to be cheaper than their farmed counterparts since the killing and smuggling of them across the borders is less expensive than rearing them and consumers prefer cheap. Making farming tigers a credible business has slowly removed the stigma that was on tiger products and ultimately undermines the global effort to eradicate the illegal trade.
For the growing numbers of rich elites in China, obtaining a bottle of tiger bone wine, as well as having tiger skin rugs and stuffed animals has become a symbol of status among the wealthy, and it is threatening to drive the magnificent animals towards extinction. In order to make the wine tiger bones are soaked in rice wine for eight years before being bottled with a mixture of snake extract and Chinese herbs with the end product, according to Daily Mail Online, being a sickly-sweet brown liquid that is 38 proof and has the taste of cough medicine and cheap brandy mixed together.
China’s demand for tiger products has become so great that existing farms are breeding more of the animals and rapidly expanding, while countries like Laos and Vietnam and other neighbors of China are also beginning to set up new farms in order to feed China’s market.
Most of the farms are overcrowded and the tigers underfed and mistreated.
A wildlife park in Guilin, southwest China, called Xiongsen Bear and Tiger Mountain only attracts a handful of actual visitors per day but boasts the largest number of captive tigers in the world with a staggering total of 1,800 animals and rumors are that the park will soon be moving to a bigger location in order to breed more tigers. The “park” is thoroughly run-down and the show they put on twice a day in a gloomy 1,000-seat auditorium is poorly attended and half-hearted at best.
When the tigers of this park die, whether from illness, old age, or fights with other tigers, they are taken to a factory in the village of the park’s owner, Zhou Weisen, and their skeletons are steeped in vats of rice wine to begin the eight year process of making tiger bone wine. Zhou openly sells the wine in a gift shop attached to a five-star hotel he owns despite the international ban, though tiger bone is not expressly listed as an ingredient. The wine is also offered as an item on the menu and presented in a bottle shaped like a tiger. Sellers elsewhere blatantly boast of the wine’s ingredients and a bottle that is three years mature sells for the equivalent of $80, six years for $155, and the vintage eight-year wine can retail for $290.
Zhou’s park also has 400 endangered Asiatic Bears, known as moon bears, and at his hotel shop can be found wine which contains bear bones as well as tiger bones for almost $100.
Some Chinese wildlife officials and members of a tiger farming lobby are actively campaigning to lift the ban on tiger bone wine, arguing that the animals are “domestic natural resources” which the country should be allowed to use since it is part of the Chinese culture and medically proven to treat rheumatism and back pain.
The Guardian reports that the battle against the trade in tiger products is at a crucial junction for the next two years as due to animal and environmental activists within and outside of the country. China is set to review a 25-year-old wildlife law. It is unclear whether the government will side with domestic tiger-farming or go with global public opinion and stand for the rights of the tigers.
There is a petition on Change.org with over 203,000 signatures and another on Care 2 Petitions with over 212,000 signatures, both of them aim to stop the trade of tiger parts and are still seeking signatures for those who are interested in contributing to the change.
[Photo Courtesy of Ng Han Guan/AP Images]